The creative maelstrom

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Often, without warning, my dog bolts around the house at great speed for seemingly no good reason.  It’s a different type of motion to the playful, leaping run when he’s outside on a walk.  This is a frenzied sprint, ears back with the force of his speed.  He’ll tear back and forth along the hallway, or invent his own circuit, over sofas, under coffee tables, onto chairs, as we watch, wincing, fearful that he’ll crash into something. It’s a frenzy, but it appears to be an exhilarating, joyful outburst that he relishes.  Then, it’s over.

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As 2013 came to an end, I felt something like my dog must in one of those moments.  It was as though the gales that have battered us on and off for the last couple of weeks had given birth to a storm of inspiration and creative energy.  In the last ten days of the year I wrote two short stories, entered two competitions, created five pages for my blog, wrote two blog posts, completed a painting, defined my creative goals for the year and incubated ideas for three new stories.  In the midst of my own creations, I devoured the creations of others: movies, books, music, diaries.  The first few weeks in December were a fallow period for me.  As usual, I didn’t worry about that, and this was my reward – a creative maelstrom.

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I love periods like these.  The level of creativity I experienced isn’t commonplace.  It may happen only a few times a year as strongly as this and that’s probably just as well, as I couldn’t sustain it all year round.  Because as well as the joy of it, there’s also a kind of insanity.  My mind jumps from one thing to another – composing a story in my head while trying to read, pausing to write something in my notebook, turning on the laptop to capture something.  Just as my dog tears around the house – fast, focused, steely – so my creative brain is engaged.  I don’t want to sleep, because I want to do more.  I’ve written and I’ve painted but I still want to cram in a movie and some reading before bed.

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I reaped the rewards of the fertile darkness, when I embraced the dark weeks after Halloween to conjure my dreams.  Those dreams were born from the midwinter solstice and the midwinter storms.  Like the act of birth itself – messy, painful, joyous, chaotic – so my dreams for the year have been born and started making themselves felt, like babies screaming for sustenance.  The maelstrom is difficult to resist or to retreat from.  And I don’t want to retreat – I’d happily drown in it.  The only way to approach it is to surrender to the current until eventually it subsides, as it will.  Because just as there will always be another fallow period, there will always be another maelstrom.  Dizzying, wonderful, fast, frenzied and productive, but fleeting.

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And then, just before the year ticked over into the new one, the storm abated.  New Year’s Day brought a new moon, usually a time for optimism and new projects, but for me, new moons are often challenging.  I was left restless, the excitement of creation gone and a feeling of emptiness in its place.  But this is another lesson in how to use those cycles of creativity – the harder work is what to do with the fruits of the maelstrom once it’s over.

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I write this with a black eye and half my face swollen to twice it’s normal size, mouth drooping in the way it did when I had Bell’s palsy as a child.  This isn’t the result of a new year punch-up, but of a rare reaction to something much more prosaic –  a root canal.  I’ve begun 2014 confined to the house, loaded with painkillers and dodging pain.  It hasn’t been conducive to creativity.  But perhaps it has been a necessary counterpoint to the maelstrom that ended the last year, a period of enforced rest that will help me to hone the ideas that came up in the storm more effectively.

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There are only four weeks remaining of the time I think of as the honing period, that space between the solstice and Candlemas (Imbolc), when the first signs of spring tentatively appear.  It’s the time when I will take hold of all those birthed ideas and refine them, so that when it comes to Candlemas, I can plan their fruition.  How you hone is in the way that is best for you.  For me it involves pondering, making lists, writing about them.  But as with all magic, it’s about how you keep the intention within you.  So, as I go on my winter walks, I’ll be looking for keepsakes that will remind me of each goal, like the sprig of ash seeds blown from the trees in the storms, objects that I can charge at Imbolc to keep these goals always in my mind.

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Storms still rage around me.  Large parts of the UK are flooded and all around is a flurry of new intentions.  You have to go with the tempest when it strikes, but it’s not only how you weather the storm that counts.  Always keep a little focus in the back of your mind, so that when it’s over, you’ve saved the treasures, not just the wreckage.

39 thoughts on “The creative maelstrom

  1. Andrea, firstly, so sorry about your bad reaction to the root canal, I do hope you feel better soon. However, how wonderful to have had such a burst of writing energy (love the analogy with your dog, we had a dog who loved to do that to and as you say, for no apparent reason!) and I wish you every success!

    You are so right about holding on and riding out the storm, however. These seasons of creativity are so wonderful when they happen but we always know that they won’t last forever.

    Again, a very evocative and powerful post Andrea, thank you so much.

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    • Thanks Sherri, feeling back to normal now, but part two of the root canal is on Wednesday, so here’s hoping for a better reaction! My creative storm was wonderful while it lasted, but I’m definitely in a counter-balancing quiet phase at the moment – still percolating some ideas but at a much more sedate pace!

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      • All the best for tomorrow Andrea, so sorry for all you’ve had to put up with but glad you are feeling better and hoping this remains!
        I went to the dentist today for a check up but I always hate going. Thankfully all was well…
        Keep those ideas percolating quietly away…soon enough they will be ready to burst out again into another wonderful creative storm 🙂
        I’m coming out of my ‘brain-fog’ at last…!

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      • Oh I’m so glad Andrea, that’s wonderful. Hopefully you are all done with that now 🙂
        Yes, thanks, my brain fog is clearing and I am feeling much more creative again thanks to the photo challenges which are really helping!
        Have a great weekend 🙂

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  2. That is certainly a maelstrom (What a lovely word) of creativity! I’m impressed, full of admiration and even a little envious at your productivity. What a great way to start 2014 (apart from the root canal work, obviously).

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  3. You’ve put it so well! I have these creative periods as well–have been in one this week. I’ve learned to respect the muse when it comes–or it tires of my procrastination quickly and moves on to someone else.

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  4. I’ve had a few of those maelstroms, and the sensation is amazing, even though I know I’ll need time to recuperate from them, too. I’m glad you were able to enjoy yours before the post-root canal trauma. Take advantage of the enforced resting time to prepare for the next phase of the cycle!

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    • Thanks JM, yes, since the slow down came, I’ve really slowed down – some ideas slowly circling, particularly a short story I want to get finished, but, as sometimes happens, I really haven’t wanted to do much at all – this past week I’m catching up on all the blogs I haven’t read as I’ve had no desire to go near a computer!

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  5. Oh you poor thing. I’ve heard root canals are painful but I’ve been lucky to escape them so far. On the upside it sounds as though you have plenty of creative projects on the go – fantastic. I’m looking forward to getting back into mine after the Christmas break x

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  6. My dog does those mad dashes, too, but she never knocks anything over or breaks a thing, so it must indeed be a most focused dash. She usually does it with a soft toy in her mouth, or if she’s outside, it’s with a stick or a windfallen apple!
    Really sorry to hear about your tooth. Teeth are great to have, but so depressing at times. There are two schools of thought about whether to fill a dead tooth, or to extract it, as it is toxic to your system. Most dentists will make you hang on to a tooth at all costs to your health.

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    • Yep, despite our wincing, he never seems to crash into anything either – they must have amazing reflexes as well as heightened senses! I know what you mean about hanging onto this tooth – with all the filling there isn’t that much of it left – I do tend not to question the dentist too much as I hate going so much – usually just do what I have to do to get in and out again!

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  7. So sorry to hear about your bad reaction to a root canal! You have great perspective on it as a counterbalance to the maelstrom of productivity. Sometimes those painful bad times serve a purpose later. Mine usually find their way into my writing. 🙂

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  8. Andrea, your dog is FRAPing; frenetic rapid activity period. It is an actual ‘thing!’ I read about it when I first got Juno, though it stated it was a puppy phase. She, however, would do it occasionally far into adulthood. Now Jess does it and she is about two-years old. So be prepared lol!

    What a amazing FRAPing period YOU had! I am sure it will result in some wonderful projects. This period is allowing me to notice my patterns of jumping the gun, so to speak; letting my excitement about a project run ahead of itself rather than pulling back and honing a little more thoughtfully until I am really ready. Yes, there is a danger of being too cautious, but in getting to know the rhythms of the seasons and applying that to my life, I may be able to break this negative cycle.

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    • Well, you’ve taught me something today Laurie – just had a quick look at FRAPing – it does fit, as he’s 17 months old, so coming to the end of adolescence – though I’m quite happy if it continues – I think it’d be a shame if all that joyful energy just disappeared! And yes, I was a bit like him, in danger of crashing into something if I didn’t stop! Everything has slowed now, so I can concentrate on honing some of the ideas – like you I love the excitement of a new project – following it through is more difficult for me, so using those cycles helps.

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  9. I can relate to this post on 3 different accounts. 1) When my dog does that unexpected race through the house, we call it the zoomies. 2) I had tooth work done two years ago and the same thing happened to me. I won’t tell you what followed, because I know it won’t happen to you. Needless to say, my face bruised and swelled too. 3) I have had those times of creativity before. Not at the present moment mind you, but they are wonderful when they come. I’m so glad for you. May your creativity continue to bloom. And, may you have a speedy recovery.

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    • Well, I’ve learned from Laurie that these are FRAPies! We also have zoomies, but those are when he chases other dogs, usually his pal Maggie, when we’re on the beach! Part two of my root canal is this week and without saying anything what happened to you sounds ominous, so I’ll hope for the best! Thanks Lori.

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  10. One of your best, I think. Loved it.
    The dog story caught me in such a way as I had to ignore it until I finished the post.
    I say that because, years ago, I watched our cat do the same thing. I read that it can be the animal creating a “way-out” in case of emergency. They want to get the precise path of running away from something as they can.
    I was trying to sleep upstairs in the townhouse and I heard running, then a loud bam, then the process repeated over and over. Getting up and going to the top of the stairs (quietly), I watched as our cat would start at the top of the stairs, run full out down the stairs and do a close turn into the kitchen. The bam I kept hearing was her body slamming into the wall at the bottom of the stairs as she tried to make that turn. After a lot of these trials, she figured out just how fast she would run and make the turn. The first time she didn’t hit the wall, she stopped and went back to being our cat.
    Thanks for that memory. I thought it was gone.
    Scott

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    • Thanks Scott, I’m so glad you liked it! That’s a great memory about your cat – I love that she kept trying and stopped when she got it right. We had five cats at one time and they did occasionally have a mad moment like those – but then were, of course, very cool and composed for the rest of the time. I’m really pleased that this prompted a good memory.

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  11. Andrea, these pictures perfectly convey my range of emotions during the last few months. And your words–wow!–especially “…it’s not only how you weather the storm that counts. Always keep a little focus in the back of your mind, so that when it’s over, you’ve saved the treasures, not just the wreckage.” This is a jewell of a post, Andrea!

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  12. I like your photos. I think maybe because I love clouds … 🙂 I could watch them for hours without being bored. They can be so beautiful. Thank you for reminding me to watch clouds today.

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  13. I like how you tie the creative maelstrom you experienced to your willingness to give yourself a period to “lie fallow,” and accept what at least appeared to be the absence of creativity during that period. It seems to be all about perspective — if we see the creativity as fueled by the fallow period, then that period is not stagnant at all, but is the root of the fruit that eventually grows.

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  14. Brilliant Andrea, love this as much as I identify with that creative maelstrom…yes the cramming in of so many things all day and then still squeezing in an audio, a film before bed, just a few words on a website, some notes for an idea birthing…also the quiet gestation periods in between. Working with the flow of it all, seeing the gift in the change of tempo. Love this perspective you’ve shared. Hope the root canal is feeling so much better x

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  15. Hahaha OMG Andrea what a amazingly FRAPing post this is! 🙂
    Yes, that frenzied dog behavior brought up some funny memories and I totally get what you mean by the maelstrom of creativity. As you know, we are dealing with quite a bit of snow and ice over here which slows down life outside considerably. However this seemingly stagnant period is bringing up so many wonderful idea’s and creative impulses I sometimes don’t know what to do first. Wanting to respond to the creativity and at the same time loving the quiet restful times as well. I so much loved your perspective on keeping a clear focus while weathering the storm. Glad you’re doing much better and looking forward to see some of the treasures you kept.

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    • Thanks Karin, there’s such a sense of excitement about having all these ideas. Although my creativity is at a lower level now, it’s still there and ideas are wanting to push through. Had a lovely walk today – cold but almost spring-like, which made me feel very connected and creative again.

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  16. Pingback: The doubt doldrums | Harvesting Hecate

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